The conversation at the bottom of this post is a good example of one the more fundamental debates within the war of ideas re-ignited by the Occupy movement – the idea of winners and losers.
In the breath immediately after the one he uses to extoll the virtues of a competition-based economy, Andrew Napolitano acknowledges that losers are just as inevitable in that system as they are in sports. This is justified, of course, with the rationale that the number of losers would be far greater in a cooperation-based economy. For as we all know, cooperation is just code for laziness, or communism, take your pick.
We humans are simply too selfish to fashion a society in which people actually care for each other, or to recognize that individual welfare is dependent on collective welfare. Granted, we have no problem being cooperative and selfless with our own friends and families, but for some reason it just isn’t in our nature to extend that same level of concern to the world at large. When it comes to anything outside our immediate ecosystem, it’s not just those decisive 1 percenters who need the incentive of limitless profit potential to coax them off their couches and into society to contribute – regular folks need it too.
So natural born losers are just a built-in side effect of life on this planet – a reflection of our inherent shortcomings and something we must accept whether we like it or not. Never mind the irony that many of the same people who subscribe to this view, like this guy, also subscribe to religions that insist every man is created by God and in his image – maybe God just enjoys playing musical chairs. You might also want to ignore the fact that we live on a completely sustainable planet fully capable of supporting all of its current inhabitants. The only way we could achieve that ideal would be to guard it as tenaciously as we guard our idealized abstraction that greed is somehow the indispensable engine of the economy, and those 2 ideals aren’t exactly compatible.
But even if we accept this idea as truth, as undesirable as it may be, an obvious question remains, and Jon Stewart asks it in the interview – what do we do with the losers? Napolitano doesn’t give an answer other than saying government shouldn’t be in the business of picking them. If you follow this sort of debate enough, though, you know that the typical reflex answer to this conundrum is simple enough – work harder. Forget that last line about losers being inherent in the system. There are enough real losers to fill those spots. So if you’re 20 years removed from college and still underwater on your student loans, or you haven’t reached the level of success of say, Paris Hilton, LeBron James or Snooki, you just aren’t working hard enough.
On second thought, maybe we need to expand our definition of “hard work.” Maybe it’s more than just putting in the hard hours. Maybe a more comprehensive definition of hard work would include the ability to gain influence. After all, if someone works hard enough to build a company with enough power to influence policies, such as lowering the minimum wage or stripping worker rights, it’s just the free market at work, right? We don’t penalize ambition in this country, we reward it.
And while we’re at it, maybe we need to re-examine our definition of losers as well. In fact, maybe they’re not losers at all. If it weren’t for them, the empires of winners like Rupert Murdoch, Donald Trump and Warren Buffett wouldn’t be possible. And where would we be without their inspirational success stories and the gleefully servile societies they spawn? Testaments of the American dream, forever exhorting us that we too can leave the losers behind by using them to our advantage, and can become pillars of men in this great country. All that’s required is for each of us to acknowledge our own perfectly natural lust for power, celebrate our insatiable greed instead of tempering it, and “work hard.”